Like Spam, Only Worse

[SOUTH AFRICA] Theres no middle ground with spam. Either you hate it, or you love it to the extent that you send it to millions of people 99.9% of whom fall into the first category and then grumble or shout about the horror that their inbox is becoming. Even worse, spam, long the domain of the shady, is fast becoming a favorite way for conmen and fraudsters to implement their malicious schemes.

Take the recent case of 2 Russian emigres in America that sent more than 50 million emails in September 1999. The e-mails urged recipients to send US $35 to a post-box in Los Angeles, targeting colleges and other markets where people traditionally are looking for work and money.

It was eventually determined that the 2 defrauded victims of between US $250,000 and US $300,000 and caused over 100,000 complaints to ISPs. They were sentenced to 27 months in prison and fined US $104,000.

Another example is the infamous Nigerian Advance Fee Scheme “Easy mony, Nigerian Style.” If youre involved in management, the chances are youve received an email asking you to make your bank account available for corrupt Nigerian government officials in return for several million dollars. The goal is to dupe you into paying some money upfront and to finally lure you to Nigeria, where money can be extorted from you and your loved ones.

And those are still crude examples of spam fraud. In November 1999, 3 Californians bought 97 percent of bankrupt commercial printing company NEI Webworld’s shares for US $0.13. They then spammed stock message boards with over 500 messages using 50 aliases, claiming that NEI Webworld was being acquired in a reverse merger by a privately held firm called LGC Wireless. The share climbed to US $15.50 in a week before crashing, netting the fraudsters US $360,000 in profit.

Luckily, the American Securities and Exchange Commission noticed the wild rise and the criminals were captured, the 2 worst offenders being indicted in January, 2000.

While the crude examples of spam fraud are being combated by ISP anti-spamming policies AOL is currently suing adult web company Cyber Entertainment for violation of its anti-spamming policy, for example- its more difficult to put a stop to the more subtle versions of spam fraud.

Unfortunately, while governmental agencies are becoming increasingly astute in identifying electronic spam at work, they can only do so after the fact. The best weapon for the individual, as always, is skepticism and research; the Internet is the greatest research tool ever: use it.

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